I visited the Central Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces, just slightly less than a year after its consecration.
It is quite rare that reality exceeds visual media.
But the Fortress-Monastery does so, in spades, and that despite its already superlative neo-Byzantine steampunk aesthetics on screen, which are like something out of a Maxim Bedulenko painting.
Unfortunately, my cell phone battery expired with freakish rapidity when I came to the Fortress Monastery, as did my reserve bank. Presumably, the machine spirits within them were unsatiated with my lack of prayers to them. (Hence, most of these photos will be from travel companion VV, who was luckier at appeasing the machine spirits).
The references to Warhammer 40K are not even whimsical. All around the complex, both inside and out, liturgical chants percolate through the air. The only things missing are the Cherubim fluttering amidst the Cathedral’s vaults.
Brass cremation urns bear contain the remains of Russian soldiers from different WW2 battlefields.
They are arraigned in a semi-circle around a monument to the Mother of the Victor, within which burns an eternal flame.
The steps up to the gate, as well as the floor within the Cathedral, are made out of melted down German armor and weaponry.
Upon the main gates is an engraving of angels striking down the Reichsadler.
The dimensions of the Cathedral are symbolic. The diameter of the main dome is 19.45 meters, while the height of the small dome is 14.18 meters (the number of days in the Great Patriotic War).
The central apse features a metallic relief dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ. More than anywhere else, photos fail to do justice to what in real life looks like a divine being in 3D, a God-Emperor if you will, irradiating into the infinite blue, star-studded heavens.
The glass mosaics feature Red Army orders and ribbons. One of them contains a hammer and sickle. When the Cathedral was being constructed, there was a minor scandal about one of the murals depicting Stalin. It was later removed, his status as a persecutor of Christians being incompatible with being so honored.
The main dome is dominated by an image of the Savior Not Made by Hands. It is the largest mosaic of Christ’s visage in the world.
Most of the main murals on the ground floor are dedicated to the Great Patriotic War…
… as well as one that honors the heroes of post-WW2 conflicts up to the liberation of Crimea in 2014. Commenter Serg6499 points out that two of the soldiers here may have a resemblance to Givi and Motorola, two heroes of the War in Donbass.
FWIW, I didn’t see empty space for future conflicts. I wonder how that problem will be solved if/when the need arises.
The four murals above the main murals feature the the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, the Russo-Japanese War, and World War I. My one critique is that I would have devoted more attention to World War I, this being, after all, a larger and more consequential conflict than the others. But it’s a minor one at that.
The underground crypt really gives off those Dwemer vibes.
One minor thing that you hardly notice – and that’s by design – is the painstaking attention to make everything fit congruently. The ornamental grillwork of the park benches corresponds to the patterns of the friezes on the Cathedral’s exterior.
Even the cafes and souvenir shops outside are painted green and don’t agree obtrusive advertisements.
The building encircling the Fortress-Monastery is a WW2 museum called the 1,418 Steps of Victory (=the number of days in the GPW) and is packed with highly immersive and interactive displays that obviously took a lot of money and effort to assemble.
As a visual and auditory experience, it is on a level with the Jewish Museum. The rooms are thematic and cleverly use light, sound, and in one case temperature (ice level air conditioning in the section on the Road of Life) to create an immersive experience.
There are two rooms showing short films, one of them featuring the history of the Night Witches, the other one something else (we didn’t stay to watch the it because the museum was closing soon).
One room off to the side from the main exhibition had graphic images and artifacts of Nazi atrocities.
One interesting room had small scale models of many of the monuments to Red Army soldiers in various European countries from Norway to Bulgaria. AFAIK some of them, e.g. in Warsaw, have been removed. It would be a nice additional touch to mark them out so.
Another room of the museum contained Hitler’s tattered uniform.
The final corridor has images of dead and surviving soldiers floating like a river of souls above candles in honor of them.
The screen at the end goes through the 27 million casualties suffered by the USSR across the 1,418 days of the war. The count does not go up linearly over time, so it seems that they took care to calculate casualties over precise time intervals.
The Military Cathedral and the Road of 1,418 Steps are just part of an entire complex that is run by the Ministry of Defense, which also includes a couple of military museums, a huge tank museum, a partisan village, a tank demonstration yard, a shooting range, and a huge expo center for exhibiting modern Russian weapons to foreign buyers (names like US-sanctioned Rosoboronexport are prominently featured).
Russian flags everywhere. It is, all in all, an unabashed festival of militarism.
And there are huge new buildings still under construction.
The military museum has a large collection of Soviet, German, Axis-aligned, Allied (mostly Lend-Lease), and even some Japanese tanks. There are also many other types of WW2 weaponry, as well as variants from the Cold War and even the modern era.
One section of the museum, pristine clinical white, is devoted to NBC warfare. These anti-gas masks for dogs were developed in 1932.
There is a massive outdoor section with a wide variety of modern weaponry, including…
… a Su-33…
… as well as an S-400 (sic!) system, and a a truck that carries the A-135 nuclear-tipped missile defense system which defends Moscow.
Hangar belonging to the United Aircraft Corporation. I happen to own a (purely symbolic) amount of their shares.
The complex can also be said to include the Tank Museum at Kubinka, which I visited a couple of years ago. It is about 5 km away and has literally hundreds of tanks in six huge hangars, making it one of the largest tank museums in the world.
The first hangar contains early Soviet tank forces starting from their germination in August 19, 1914 (when the world’s first automobile machine gun brigade was formed), through to the 1930s.
The three main hangars are devoted to Soviet, German/Axis, and Western Allied tanks of World War II.
The last two hangars include Soviet tanks of the early Cold War, and of the late Cold War and modern era.
Here is a Hungarian 38M Toldi just for reiner Tor.
Mobile siege mortar “Adam”.
A special German anti-mine tank that looks like a ball.
Perhaps the most unique part of the collection is the world’s only surviving example of a Maus. Clocking in at 188 tons, it was the heaviest tank ever built. It crawled at 7 km/h and was too heavy for bridges.
I would say that at this point, Patriot Park is already well worth a visit if you are in Moscow for a week or so, especially if you are interested in military history, or more broadly the ideology of modern Russia: https://akarlin.com/travel/moscow/
As a religious institution, I would say that the Military Cathedral is my second favorite religious center in Russia after the St. Joseph of Volokolamsk Monastery (and ahead of the overly touristic New Jerusalem Monastery, and even the St. Sergius Lavra in Sergiev Posad). As a comprehensive military museum complex – in between the Museum of 1,418 Steps, the Patriot Park military museum, and the Kubinka Team Museum – it is, I think, ahead of anything in Moscow proper. If you want to comprehensively explore all of it, including the Cathedral and the three main museum, as well as the shooting range, the partisan museum, and other exhibitions, you will need at least two days, probably three.